Whether as Pamukkale (Cotton Castle) or ancient Hierapolis (Holy City), this village has been drawing the weary to its thermal springs for more than 23 centuries. The Turkish name refers to the surface of the shimmering, snow-white limestone, shaped over millennia by calcium-rich springs. Dripping slowly down the vast mountainside, mineral rich waters foam and collect in terraces, spilling over cascades of stalactites into milky pools below. Legend has it that the formations are solidified cotton (the area’s principal crop) that giants left out to dry.
Overshadowed by natural wonder, Pamukkale’s well-preserved Roman ruins and museum have been remarkably underestimated and unadvertised; tourist brochures over the past 20 years have mainly featured photos of people bathing in the calcium pools. Aside from a small footpath running up the mountain face, the terraces are all currently off-limits, having suffered erosion and water pollution at the feet of tourists. While it is not open for bathing, the site is still worth a visit. Although many travelers come to Pamukkale only as a hasty daytrip from Kuşadası or Selçuk, you may want to consider spending the night in the village to best take advantage of its relaxing atmosphere and wealth of sights.
Buses to Pamukkale stop in Cumhuriyet Meydanı in the center of Pamukkale Köyü (village). Most direct buses come from Kuşadası and pass through Selçuk (3hr.; daily May-Aug. 9am, return 5pm; $6.50), but the more common route is through Denizli. Dolmuş run between Denizli and the beginning of the Pamukkale walking path, where Atatürk Cad. meets Mehmet. Akif Ersoy Bul. (25min, every 15min. in summer 7am-11pm, $.40). Alternatively, a Pamukkale pension can arrange free pick up from the Denizli otogar, with the added benefit of bypassing the barrage of pension hawkers at the dolmuş stop.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Pamukkale is roughly divided into two areas. Pamukkale Köyü, at. the foot of the white mountain, is home to many hotels and restaurants. The Pamukkale site encompasses the mountain itself, the calcium-rich pools, and the ruins of Hierapo- lis. The path leading to the mountain begins at Mehmet Akif Bul., the road that dolmuş follow to and from Denizli. From the other side of the boulevard, Atatürk Cad. leads downhill to Cumhuriyet Meydanı, the village’s small but central square.
- Tourist Police: (272 29 09), at the top of the hill, within the site gates. Open 24hr.
- Pharmacy: Denizli Eczanesi ( 272 29 20), Cumhuriyet Meydanı. Open daily 9am-mid- night.
- Banks: There are several banks and ATMs in Cumhuriyet Meydanı.
- PTT: Within the site (272 21 21). Open daily 8:30am-6:30pm. Another branch is within the village on Yavuz Selim Cad., 300m from Cumhuriyet Meydanı. 272 28 52. Open M-F 8:30am-12:30pm and 1:30-5:30pm.
Site Postal Code: 20285. Village Postal Code: 20280.
All of the places listed below have swimming pools filled with Pamukkale thermal water and offer free pickup from the Denizli bus station.
Meltem Guest House, Atatürk Cad., 14 Şirin Sok. (272 24 13 or 272 31 34; fax 272 24 14), just outside Cumhuriyet Meydanı. With a warm welcome to backpackers, Meltem offers satellite TV and movies, trips to Aphrodi- sias ($8), and daily trips to the Red Springs, a “secret waterfall,” and a nearby mud bath for a “magic massage” ($12). The tidy rooms all have bath. In winter, guests stay at Meltem Motel, 2 blocks away, with a direct view of Pamukkale Mountain. Internet $1.20 per hr. Laundry $4. Breakfast $1.60. $4 per person; dorms $3.20; rooms with A/C and bath $8 per person; roof $1.60.
Koray Hotel, 27 Fevzi Çakmak Cad. (272 23 00 or 272 22 22; fax 272 20 95). Rooms with carpet and bath all face a beautiful inner courtyard, where guests can relax and eat their meals by the pool under grapevines. TV, salon, bar, and glassed-in rooftop restaurant for winter dining. Daily trips to Aphrodisias $8. Internet $1.20 per hr. Break¬fast buffet and extensive dinner included. Prices may vary by season but are negotiable. A/C is extra. Singles $16; doubles $24.
Venüs Hotel, 16 Hasan Tahsin Cad. (272 21 52). Gleaming white walls and polished bathrooms lend the rooms an air of freshness. All have vine-adorned balconies. Laundry $4. Dinner $4. Breakfast $1.60. Doubles $8; triples $12.
Dört Mevsim Hotel, 19 Hasan Tahsin Cad. (272 20 09). Follow the signs for Venüs Hotel and continue 20m. Rooms in this quiet, removed setting overlook a pool and lush flowers. The easygoing owner organizes a daily trip to Aphrodisias for groups of at least 3 people ($6.40). Fantastic saç kebap dinners $2.40. All rooms with fans. Breakfast included. Camping $1.60. $4 per person.
FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
Most of the pensions serve excellent dinners, making dining elsewhere less of a necessity. The large buffet at the Koray Hotel is particularly impressive. The nightlife in Pamukkale is definitely not as raging as it is on the coast, but you can still find places to get a drink after dinner and dance into the early hours.
Ei Konak Sade (272 20 02), on Atatürk Cad., just up the hill from Cumhuriyet Meydanı, on the left. An establishment with a traditional Turkish salon on the upper level. Pool side terrace seating with a view of the Pamukkale mountain. Chicken grill $3.40; konak sade kebap $3.80; plenty of Ice cream flavors for dessert $1.20. Free swimming for diners. Open daİly 9am-2am.
Gürsoy Aile Restaurant, 3 Atatürk Cad. (272 22 67), in Cumhuriyet Meydanı. Simple outdoor dining. The house special is gürsoy kebap ($2), but salads, omelettes and pasta dishes ($1.20) will satisfy vegetarians. Fish $1.60. Unlimited lunch buffet $4. 10% student discount. Open daily 9am-midnight.
Han Restaurant, 11 Cumhuriyet Meydanı (272 25 71), next to Gürsoy Aile. Seating on a porch under thick foliage. Specializes in kebap dishes. Adana kebap $1.50; eggplant in tomato sauce $.80; mixed potato salad $.80. Open daily 9am-midnlght.
Pamukkale Cafe-Bar-Restaurant, 13 Cumhuriyet Meydanı (272 21 90 or 272 22 86). Features several fixed menus: 2 are vegetarian ($2.40); others include a glass of wine and either fish ($3.20), chicken ($3.20), or kebap ($3.60). A la carte dining also available. Meat, chicken, or cheese sandwiches $1.20. Open daily 9am-midnight.
Paşa Disco and Bar, 1 Mehmet Akif Ersoy Bul. (272 21 47), where Atatürk Cad. meets Mehmet Akif Ersoy Bul., across from the entrance to the Pamukkale site. Tunes reverberate with the flashing lights overhead. Beer $1.60. Open daily 9pm-2:30am.
Harem Disco and Bar (272 22 52), on Atatürk Cad., uphill from Cumhuriyet Meydanı. A basement disco with modest dance space and carpet-covered sofas. A sign over the door reads Damsızgirilmez, which means no entrance (for men) if not accompanied by a woman. Don’t worry it doesn’t apply to tourists. Beer $1.60. Open daily 8pm-2am.
A favorite getaway spot for vacationing Romans almost 2000 years ago, the warm baths at Pamukkale still bubble away. Elegant, shallow pools at the top of the hill (near- the road that separates the site from Hierapolis) gradually deepen farther down the slope. The terraces near the center of the formation are the most intricately shaped. All pools are off-limits for bathing due to overuse, and the guards patrolling the site aren’t shy with their whistles in cases of transgression. A narrow walkway leading up the face of the slope still allows shoeless visitors to touch the thermal waters, but the occasional gravel patches are hard on the feet and force visitors to concentrate on the ground instead of on the striking scenery. (Open 24hr. $3.20, students $.80.)
HIERA POLIS MUSEUM
Directly across the street from the top of the walking path that leads up the mountain stand the stately archways that once formed the city bath. The bath’s glossy marble interior has been converted into the spectacular Hierapolis Museum, which houses the finds unearthed by Italian archaeologists. (272 20 34. Open daily 9am-6pm. $1.20, students $.40.)
RUINS OF HIERAPOLIS
Just past the PTT is a wire fence, with an opening 50m up. From here you can walk to the right to explore the nymphaeum, a fountain temple dedicated to the Nymphs, and the remains of the 3rd-century Temple of Apollo. Next to the temple is the Plutonium (a.k.a. Gin Deliği, or Devil’s Hole), a pit emit¬ting toxic carbonic acid gas, now marked by a foreboding sign reading “Danger: Poisonous Gas.” In ancient times, temple priests used the pit as proof of their power. Carved into the side of the mountain, the enormous Grand Theater dominates the vista. The theater is one of the best preserved in Turkey; much of the 25,000 person seating area and many carved stage decorations remain intact.
Farther up the hill and to the left (facing away from the mountain) are the haunting ruins of a 5th-century Christian Basilica, dedicated to St. Philip, who was martyred in Hieropolis. Farther on the left and back down the hill along the road lie a 3rd-century bath that was later converted to a basilica, and a necropolis, holding some 1200 tombs and sarcophagi. The tombs vary considerably in size and architectural style, and include house-shaped tombs and rare tumuli, recognizable by their circular bases and squat, domed roofs. These plots were prime real estate it was believed that proximity to the hot springs and vapor-emitting cracks would ease the trip to the underworld. (The ruins dot the hillside, eventually following the road that leads to Karahayit. The tourist office provides helpful maps of the sites.)
Don’t leave Pamukkale without a dip in the sacred fountain at the Pamukkale Motel Termal. Warm, fizzy waters bubble at the spring’s source, now blocked off to prevent divers from disappearing. On the pool’s floor rest the remains of Roman columns, toppled by the earthquake that created the spring. Alongside the pool are cafes (beer $1.60; soft drinks $1.20; sandwiches $1.20) and souvenir shops. (272 20 24. Pool open daily 8am-8pm; in winter 8am-6pm. $4 per2hr.)
Four kilometers beyond the vehicle entrance to the Pamukkale site is Karahayit (Red Source). Visitors can view the red spring free of charge and swim in the hot spring waters in a pool nearby. ($1.20 per person.) Karahayit is accessible by the “Karahayit-Pamukkale” dolmuş, which leaves from Denizli, and pass by the bottom of the footpath entrance to the Pamukkale site. (Every 15min. 7am-llpm, $.40.) 15km beyond Karahayit are the mud baths of Gölemez. The mud baths are free and always open. They are accessible, however, only with a guided tour. The Meltem Motel offers daily tours that visit the baths.